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How Did An Alabama Baptist End Up A Cape Cod Anglican?

More blogs »Posted on Sep 27 2012

I’m told my accent gives me away, which might lead to the title question, and an old high school friend who ‘found’ me online after I came here certainly asked me how I ended up here. The basic answer is that I discovered the rich worship in Anglican liturgy.

As a child my mother at one time or another had me in every church in Childersburg Alabama. She also tended to dress me in 100% polyester, and suits on Sunday, which contributed to my distaste for suits. But in attending all the different churches I developed an interest in the differences. When I was old enough, I put an end to the polyester, and when I could drive I chose a church for myself. I chose it using the criteria many young men use to choose things. There was this girl I was interested in…

I am grateful that attending Southern Baptist churches I gained an appreciation for solid, accurate Biblical interpretation. In their churches the pulpit is central, highlighting the central role preaching has in church. I gained an appreciation for lively preaching, imparting what the Bible passage in question is SAYING, challenging us to live more in line with Biblical principles.

I began to ask questions, particularly in seminary, about some of the other aspects of Baptist worship. Why do we not wear pulpit robes (Baptists would wear Geneva gowns, academic robes, when they wear robes at all)? “Because the Catholics do” was one answer, and that bothered me because you should never define yourself by what you’re against. “Because you should wear what the people do” was another answer, which led me to “then why do we put the choir in robes?” and “even if you’re the only one in a suit?” I noted that some preacher’s choices in suits was distracting, either because of the obvious expense of some suits or the creative colors of others. The suit questions began to coalesce into a more specific idea, that it was the ceremonial aspects of the worship I was beginning to find wanting.

You might say that it’s only the preaching that matters, or only the praise that matters, but that denies how important ceremony is. It’s how we honor events we find important. Usually, does a bride wear any old thing to her wedding? How we craft a ceremony says something about how much we honor the event. Not only that, a ceremony well done can move us, teach us. The military are masters of this. A Chief Petty Officer let slip to me one little piece of a new chief’s initiation. You see, a Sailor wears that iconic ‘Dixie Cup’ hat as he’s promoted until he becomes a Chief, at which point his uniform changes to look much like an officer’s. On the night before he ‘puts on Chief’, he wears that cap out to the beach, kneels down to dig a hole in the sand, then buries the cap, never to wear it again. Wow. That is evocative. He once was a Sailor, but now he has to BE a Chief.

I was a Navy chaplain for 20 years, and it’s a wonderfully ecumenical ministry where I got to work alongside ministers of all kinds of faiths, and ask lots of questions. An Anglican’s robes, the Alb and the Cassock, actually date to earlier forms of common dress (the Alb is based on the Toga) and survive from the expectation that a priest should dress conservatively. They have the effect, though, of taking the congregation’s attention OFF what the priest is wearing, since they see him in it all the time, like a uniform. It also identifies him, like a police officer’s uniform identifies them, and helps ‘set the stage’ for worship. And though it’s not the original idea behind the robes, it becomes symbolic of the Holy Spirit descending on the celebrant to empower the ministry (I make a point of crediting God if the sermon was good, and taking the blame if it was bad, because I think that’s what happens).

One incident marked an important point in my spiritual pilgrimage. I’ve always thought the Lord’s Supper was very, very important. I’ve always enjoyed participating in it. A church we attended while I was assigned to the USS Harry S Truman in Chesapeake Virginia was meeting in a high school auditorium while they were saving the money to build a church building of their own, and held communion only once a quarter. On the Sunday they did, I was really looking forward to it. They passed out little plastic cups of grape juice that had a foil lid over the top, with a bullet of bread sitting on that, and a film of plastic wrap over it all. When the words were pronounced, we peeled off the plastic and took the bread, then at the next words we peeled off the foil and drank the juice. I went home, my wife went to work, and as the day progressed I found myself getting restless. Finally I realized I felt cheated out of the Lord’s Supper by the way it was conducted. I called my children together, got some bread and some wine, and did it again with more reverence.

In Luke 22 we find “19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, β€œThis is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, β€œThis cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” The way Jesus describes this, it’s important. Skipping the deep theology for another time, I will say now that this is evocative. Ceremonially, we are taking into ourselves Jesus’ very body and blood. By it we are forgiven, but now we ought to live like He’s within us. And the more reverence with which we do this ceremony, the more impact it has.

After that, it was just a matter of time that I would become an Anglican. My wife, having done genealogical research, noted that fully one half of Wilmots she’s studies identified themselves as ‘Baptist’, the other half ‘Anglican’. Ironically, the chaplain I replaced on the USS Enterprise later left the United Methodist church to be ordained an Anglican through the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), and he introduced me to them. Just prior to serving on the Enterprise I was stationed on Cape Cod with the Coast Guard, and when I saw Church of the Resurrection was looking for a pastor, I jumped at the chance. In many ways, I have come home.

Comments

Roger D. Hamilton

» February 1, 2013 - 4:50 pm

You all are truly blessed to have My Friend Father Wilmot as your pastor. I am the high school friend he referred to. I am Very PROUD to name him among my friends. Enjoy him.

Gloria E. Diaz

» March 25, 2013 - 11:24 pm

Mr. Hamilton,
Thank you for your input concerning our being blessed having Fr. Alan as our pastor. I must admit, I was biased in his favor from the get-go when I first met him. I have a very soft spot for our southern citizens whom I’ve always found to be polite and helpful. I loved shopping in VA in the food stores near Colonial Williamsburg because the employees went out their way to help a customer and were extremely polite. Then there was my dear friend and neighbor, Nellie, who was born in Georgia and raised in Virginia, with the most delightful southern accent anyone would appreciate. She was a devout Christian (Baptist) who helped me many times during my time of need. We became close and her son, Kelly, went on to become a Baptist minister in New York (Manhattan). What does this have to do with Father Alan you might ask. I would say that he lives up to the favorable impressions I’ve had of our southern neighbors. His refinement is natural and folks respond with affection because he’s the “real” thing. Yes, indeed, we are blessed to have your high school friend as our pastor and I am pleased to pay homage to my dearest friend Nellie in this venue. She was 16 years older, with a young spirit and died too soon. I miss her to this day. Thank you.

Disillusioned Alabama Baptist

» August 8, 2013 - 8:54 pm

Hi! I’ve been searching the internet lately to try and determine the real differences between Baptists and Anglicans. I grew up very active in the Southern Baptist churches of Alabama. However, my husband and I find ourselves longing for the reverence and holiness we feel is lacking in most modern churches. We’ve been searching for the right place and way of worship for our family, and are having such difficulty finding it. I recently stumbled upon a group who has planted an Anglican church in our community (now in Central Texas.) I am trying to learn as much as I can about the Anglican way.

What I’m struggling with, as you might imagine, having grown up as a Baptist, is how the sacraments actually give salvation. For lack of a better way to explain my thoughts, I will say this, with NO intention to be disrespectful, but rather showing evidence of my lack of understanding: how can you (the Anglican church, along with many other denominations) be so bold as to assume that Christ actually answers your request to save the infant being baptized, or to become the actual body and blood, just because you ask him to? I struggle with understanding the sacraments. I very much appreciate the rich tradition of the church, and certainly miss that in the Baptist experience. However…just because the early Christians chose to practice these rituals, does that make them holy and desirable to God? Does the actual act of Baptism “cause” salvation? Or is it merely a symbol that Christ has already saved us? I’m so confused. I truly desire to understand, but am really trying to figure out how and why these beautiful traditions/rituals came to be; and how we KNOW that they are what Christ would have us do. I have partaken of communion on many occasions, and understand it’s history from the Bible. However…I’m having a hard time with the details of this becoming the actual body and blood of Christ.

And now I’m just rambling! πŸ™‚

I thank you in advance if you have the time and energy for a response. If not, no worries at all. πŸ™‚ I will continue searching, but just appreciated the fact that we share a similar background.

Warmest Regards
Disillusioned

Father Alan

» August 8, 2013 - 10:27 pm

Dear Disillusioned,

I do believe that theologically the difference is not nearly as much as it seems.

That said, really what you’re asking would take a book to answer in any depth. Short of that, on the subject of infant baptisms, when you look at the liturgy of the actual baptism, you find that the baptism is a covenant entered into by the parents and any godparents, the church, and the priest representing God, in which all parties are agreeing to raise the child (and now I will paraphrase) in such a way that when they are older they will BE Christian. Or, another way to say that, so that they’ll make their own decision for Christ. The Catholics call that confirmation. It’s somewhat like a Baptist’s infant dedication, though it really places more emphasis on the adults around the child. Yes, it’s the child that gets wet, but the child is there simply being held, we’re the ones reciting an agreement to teach and disciple the child.

Regarding the Sacraments in general, I think that which gives them power is obedience. I look to the book of James in general, and the second chapter in specific, where he says “Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith BY my works” and “Faith without works is dead.” And so every time we perform a sacrament, we are acting out obedience, because we believe that Christ is real, and that reality compels us to act.

Now, I don’t mean that this is ‘works righteousness’, we will not be saved unless we believe in Jesus and accept Him as our Lord and Savior. But if we believe in Him, we will act as if we do. He said “who loves me will keep my commandments”. I think what he’s saying is, “If you love me, that love will result in your wanting to please me, and these commandments tell you how.”

Now, as to the elements of the Lord’s Supper becoming the actual body and blood of Christ… Check out The Articles of Religion in the Documents section of our website. These are found near the back of any Book of Common Prayer, and are very short statements of what we believe in. One of them is about this subject. For the bread and wine to actually turn into Jesus’ body and blood is theologically labelled Transubstantiation. That is, I think humorously, rejected in the Articles of Religion. I think what we’re trying to do is treat the elements AS IF that’s what they were, much like the American flag is not our country, but we treat it with great reverence because it is a symbol of our country. Take the opposite extreme, there are mega churches now that set a table in the back to the side of the Sanctuary with some crackers and grape juice, and say it’s the Lord’s Supper buffet style (just go back there and serve yourself whenever you feel the need). I think that’s horrific, terribly disrespectful.

One of the things that pulled me toward Anglicanism was the idea that as we push back in time, those that lived closer to the actual lifetime of Christ would have something important to say about how He was first worshipped.

Well, this all is just a beginning, I hope it was helpful. We can certainly dive into this in greater detail, I’d recommend sending questions on the Contact page of our website. I will endeavor to be better about checking that email program, but I can then respond from my personal account, which I check often, and try to do a better, more in depth job of helping you with these questions. To a certain degree, the difference between being Baptist and Anglican is not so much what we believe as it is how we act out that belief.

God bless you,

Father Alan

Disillusioned Alabama Baptist

» August 9, 2013 - 5:17 am

You are so very gracious to respond so quickly to my post. Thank you! Your explanation is what I HOPED it would be, and is very much in line with my beliefs.

My husband and I are meeting with a couple who is very involved in planting the local Orthodox Anglican church. They are quite passionate about what they are doing, and love to discuss their faith with others who are interested. And…they used to be Baptist lol! I’m really looking forward to clarifying some of our questions.

Thank you again for your generosity with your time in answering my post. I may certainly contact you again.

Warmest Regards,
Not quite as disillusioned πŸ™‚

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